FOUNDER COWBOYS OF COLOR RODEO TOUR
FORMER ZONE MANAGER FORD MOTOR COMPANY
A native of Seminole, Oklahoma, Mr. Cleo Hearn spent his early life in Oklahoma. His mother was African American and his father was Seminole Indian. He went to college at Oklahoma University but after a year they cancelled the rodeo program so he left school and was drafted. After his basic training he was chosen as one of the first eight African Americans to serve in the Presidential Honor Guard under President John F. Kennedy. After serving in the Army for two years, he went back to school and graduated with a business degree from Langston University. He was the first African American to go to college on a Rodeo Scholarship.
During his years in the Army, Cleo continued to Rodeo. Even going so far as to taking all of his buddies with him. He and a bunch of guys from the base would pay a driver and commandeer a bus and travel to the rodeo up in Cowtown Woodstown, New Jersey.
He has been a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association since 1959. When Cleo started in the rodeo business as a black man he was not allowed to compete in the regular rodeos because of discrimination. He persevered until the audience and the other cowboys forced the rodeo producers to let him compete because his calf roping times were better than the rest of the competitors. He was the first African American to win a major Stock Show tie-down calf roping event, the 1970 National Western in Denver, Colorado.
He moved to Texas with his first job as a management trainee for Ford Motor Company, he spent 33 years with Ford and ended his career there as a Southwestern Zone Manager and has lived in Lancaster, Texas for most of his adult life. He has traveled all over North America competing in rodeos and taking family vacations with his family (wife Verna passed away in 2016 and four boys Harlan, Eldon, Robby and Wendell). His four boys also went to school on rodeo scholarships and now work for large corporations or public entities.
The Cowboys of Color Rodeo Tour is the living dream of Cleo and is the largest multicultural rodeo in the world. He produced his first Black Rodeo for 10,000 kids in Harlem, New York in 1971 with 100 other Black Cowboys from Texas and Oklahoma, like Bud Bramwell, Rufus Green, Sr., Myrtis Dightman, Roy LeBlanc, Marvel Rogers and other legends. He began producing rodeos in Dallas in 1985 as a fundraiser for the African American Museum Dallas. In 1995, he changed the name from the Texas Black Rodeo to Cowboys of Color Rodeo to be inclusive of other cultures. The rodeo was designed "to educate while it entertains," and highlights the contributions that Native, Hispanic, European and African Americans made to the settling of the Old West, contributions that many history books fail to mention. The Cowboys of Color Rodeo Tour tours through Oklahoma and Texas serving as a training ground for the PRCA and featuring over 200 culturally diverse cowboys and cowgirls competing for cash prizes. The rodeo offers traditional competition in bull riding, bareback bronc busting, calf roping, steer wrestling and ladies barrel racing. Historical facts and cultural entertainment like Buffalo Soldiers, Charros, Escaramuzas (Spanish Ladies Side Saddle Team) or Native American Dancers or Drummers provide living history between the rodeo events to educate the audience about a heritage they may never have heard. The Cowboys of Color Rodeo Tour brings diverse cultures (contestants and audience) together to celebrate our collective Western heritage.
In 2010, he began providing a Cowboys of Color Rodeo at the Fort Worth Stock Show to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day and it is the first rodeo that sells out every year for the organization.
Among his many awards, he received his Star on the Texas Trail of Fame in the Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas in 2005 for his lifetime commitment to rodeo and the cowboy way of life. His star is positioned in front of the Bill Pickett statue in front of the Cowtown Coliseum. Cleo also was the 2016 Recipient of the Lane Frost Award, was inducted into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame in Dallas, Texas in 2021 and inducted into the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 2022 for his long legacy of promoting the Western and Rodeo Cowboy lifestyle.
Cleo has also been in numerous commercials Ford, Pepsi, Levi, Philip Morris. He has appeared in hundreds of television and radio shows and hundreds of print articles over the years. Cleo has also spoken to children, youth and adults all over the country sharing the Rodeo Cowboy Western Lifestyle and Legacy.